The Ladies.

Our family grew from 3 (R, Loki, and myself) to 11! There are now 5 beautiful ducks and 3 darling chickens living in The Mansion 🙂

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They all came from different places, are different ages and sizes, and even a few different breeds. I love our little mis-matched flock. We welcomed them all to the family within a couple of days of each other, while we were in Denver visiting my family. It was easier to find, specifically, the kind of ducks I wanted in a bigger city than it was here in our little mountain town.

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So here are the introductions!

First, came Kachna.

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I found her on craigslist in Leadville, CO. The lovely couple that had her meant to get a meat duck, but ended up with a runner duck (they’re skinny and don’t make great meals). So we drove up to Leadville on the way to Denver and ended up spending half an hour or so with this couple who was a lot like us! A garden, chickens and ducks all around. I held Kachna TIGHT in my arms while we chatted because she is strong and feisty! She is a beautiful black runner duck who acts a lot like Amelia. She’s maybe 4 months old now, and will start laying eggs in the next couple of months. She is the brave and protective one of the flock; she’ll stand in front of everyone else and seems to be their fearless leader. She isn’t quite totally trusting of me just yet, but I’ll win her over.

And, in case you’re curious, Kachna is the Czech word for duck, and R is of Czech heritage.

Then, there’s Moonbeam and Midget.

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At the same time we were picking up Kachna in Leadville, my brother’s girlfriend was picking up Moonbeam and Midget for us in south Denver. Another craigslist find, this woman was downsizing her flock and these two white runners were for sale. They are about a year old and already laying. These two are skittish but wonderful!

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So when we arrived in Denver at my folks’ house, we put Kachna and the white ducks together in our big dog crate we had brought with us. We decided on Moonbeam and Midget for names (they’re named after heirloom melon varieties). We have a feeling they weren’t treated very well before coming to us because they are pretty fearful of us. They don’t even seem to know what “real food” is, i.e. greens and peas and corn and such. Kachna watches out for them and leads them around. Don’t worry, I’ll win them over too… just might take a little longer.

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In the folks’ backyard.

A couple of days later, my Mom, R, and myself went on a drive out to east Denver to pick up a few more additions to the flock. We stopped at a little farm and got two little runner ducklings. I actually didn’t expect to get ducklings that little, but how could you resist?!

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Seriously, the cuteness.

The bigger yellow runner we named Sweetness (another melon variety), and the little blue runner is now Ralphie (after the CU Buffs mascot). Little Ralphie was only 2 weeks old when we picked her up!

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The lady we got the ducklings from advised that we bring them inside at night for another week or two until they’re a little bigger, and to watch them closely around the bigger females for any possible aggression issues. When we brought them home and introduced them Kachna, Moonbeam, and Midget, this was the scene:

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What are those?!

All three of them looked pretty confused. Happily for us, no aggression. By now they’ve all bonded and are one big happy flock.

After we picked up the ducklings, we went to a chicken farm. We picked out two Jersey Giants and R chose a cute little red Wyandotte chicken.

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The big black chickens’ politically correct names are Sage and Spruce. Since they are big black chickens though, we secretly call them Shenequa and She-dynasty. Shenequa (Sage) is the braver one of the two. She ate out of my hand very quickly. They make some pretty adorable little cooing noises and they also seem to enjoy the duck food more than they probably should.

Our little red chicken is Cedar. She is little and sweet and darling. She’ll even step up like a parrot if you’re patient enough. When we first brought the chickens to my folks’ house, the black chickens were picking on Cedar, so I decided to put her in with the ducklings, who were in a big cardboard box at the time, to see how they’d do together. The ducklings thought she was their mom, and now all 3 are pretty bonded. Now I think I have a little chicken who’s not sure if she’s a duck or not, and a couple of ducklings who would rather snuggle up with a chicken at night. They’re pretty cute together.

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Sweet little thing.

That’s the flock! The drive home from Denver was pretty long and stressful on everyone; we got hailed and rained on and it seemed to take forever. All 11 of us were exhausted by the time we got home. We kept the ducklings separated from the rest of the flock for a few days, by coming inside at night and keeping a baby gate barrier in the coop during the day. Then we came home from work one day and both Cedar and Ralphie had busted out of the baby gate and were just chillin with the rest of the flock, so we figured everyone was probably ok together. Poor Sweetness was stuck behind the gate crying away!

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For now, everyone is staying in the coop 24 hours a day, because they aren’t quite sure of me yet. I don’t want to let them out to forage around outside then not be able to get them back in the coop at night. The other challenge so far is the ducks “swimming bowl.” I have a big rubber bowl that I’m using temporarily for their bathing purposes because of both the size of the coop and the size of the ducklings. Of course, that means the 3 big girls make a GIGANTIC mess of their water. Constantly.

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The chickens getting down on some waterfowl food.

I even have a “poultry waterer” that I bought specifically for the chickens, so they can have fresh drinking water while the ducks make a mess of their bowls of water. So far all it does is entice the ducks to stuff it full of straw and dirt so it leaches all the water out in a big muddy, disgusting mess. Next project will be building a little platform for the waterer so the chickens have to fly up to get some fresh water… somewhere the ducks can’t get to.

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Having a mixed flock is so entertaining and so wonderful. My heart is just full of joy hearing all their quacks and chirps and coos. We now have somewhere to throw all of our kitchen scraps, weeds from the garden, leftover produce, bugs we find in the garden (except the beneficial ones!) and pretty much any other green thing they might eat. They devour all of it, and in the process, the chickens scratch apart the straw to help it break down and dry out… since the ducks are such a mess and literally get water everywhere.

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Havin’ a swim.

As far as eggs goes, only Moonbeam and Midget are old enough to be laying right now, but the stress we put them through moving here forced their little systems into molting. So, no eggs until they’re finished molting. Sage and Spruce should start laying in the next few weeks, Kachna and Cedar shortly after that, and Sweetness and Ralphie a while later.

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I mean, come on. Look at her big feet!

Our project in the next few days is to build them an outdoor run that is connected to the coop. We’ll use our leftover deer fencing from the garden and build a run outside that has a much bigger “pond” for the ducks to swim in (it’s basically a 40-50 gallon stock tank). Also, more foraging opportunities for bugs and weeds and good stuff. And it’ll be a nice transition to them being able to free-forage outside after they get a little more used to the place. Of course, the run won’t be predator-proof like the coop is, so that will be supervised while-we’re-home outside time.

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That’s all the updates on the flock for now! The babies are growing fast and now Sweetness doesn’t even look like these pictures. She’s getting her big girl feathers in, and her little voice changed from a chirp to a quack just the other day!

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Lookin’ at you.

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One last funny story. This morning I was finishing up watering the greenhouse and was rolling up a couple of hoses right in front of the coop. I heard quacking and chirping, but it wasn’t coming from the coop. All the ladies were settled down having a nap in the sun. The quacking was coming from behind the coop… and up high.  So I’m looking up in the trees, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Stellar Jay up in the tree, quacking and chirping away. If you’ll recall, last Summer we had a Stellar that mimicked a Red Tail Hawk, which led us into calling ourselves Stellar Hawk Ranch. Are we Stellar Duck Ranch now?!

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She was only this little for, like, 3 days.

The Mansion.

Alright! I know you’ve been dying to hear about our chicken/duck coop/mansion.

Ever since Amelia passed away, I have been very lonely without birds around. So one of our big Springtime projects was to build a chicken/duck coop and fill it with quacking and pecking feathered ladies! We started this project in March.

I decided I wanted to build it out of pallets and re-use the panels from Amelia’s old enclosure. We collected all the pallets for free from various places around town (some in better shape than others, but all free nonetheless), and I did hours of measuring pallets, making lists, and designing on paper before we started even leveling the ground where it was to sit.

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Starting the leveling process. You gotta start somewhere!

We picked the spot, and I hand-leveled a 10 ft x 12 ft plot where 9 pallets were going to be fastened together as the base for the coop. I decided the coop needed a sturdy floor, as opposed to having the coop just sit on the bare ground. We have so many predators around here that no chances are to be taken.

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Still snow on the ground…

Once the 9 pallets were assembled and screwed together as much as possible, I laid 1/2″ hardware cloth over the entire thing and stapled/screwed it on. Then, with the help of my brother and his lady friend, the 4 of us flipped the whole thing over. So now the hardware cloth barrier is right up against the ground, which makes an excellent deterrent from hungry creatures trying to dig into the coop. I then hardware cloth’d and chicken wired the top side. Two barriers are better than one. We attached scrap 2x4s around around all the sides of the pallets to tie everything together, make the pallet base more sturdy, and keep all the wiring in place. Then it was a matter of building walls.

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Walls going up!

With a whole lot of patience amongst the occasional frustration surrounding the fact that pallets are rarely exactly the same, we managed to put mostly-alike pallets together to form a back wall to the coop. The panels from Amelia’s enclosure serve as the front part of the coop. Next was the roof.

The back half of the coop is designed to be their nesting and roosting area, as well as their protection from harsh weather. I wanted a solid roof to protect from rain and snow, and the solid pallet wall protects them from wind. The front half of the coop would still be completely wired and predator-proof, but would allow a lot more air flow, sunshine, and weather to get in (ducks don’t mind a rainstorm!). The nice thing about using pallets is that they are not airtight. So even when I added extra scrap pieces to the pallets to make them more complete, there is still a lot of ventilation. Birds need lots of fresh, moving air for their sensitive respiratory systems. Even in the middle of Winter.

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Turns out building a roof is really complicated! Lucky for me my talented woodworking handyman of a partner figured it out. He made me an A-frame style roof that sits on the back half of the coop. Attached to the top are clear plastic corrugated panels that will allow rain or snow to just run off the roof (and we can potentially collect rainwater off it), and they still let sunshine in. In the Winter it should act as a mini-greenhouse to keep them warm too. I decided not to completely enclose the outer sides of the A-frame for ventilation purposes.

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The backside.

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From the inside.

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Love our scrap lumber mess?

After the inside roof was finished, we put up the rest of the walls on the front side, and made an open-style roof for the front half of the coop. Paint came next. I wanted the inside to be a nice sunny yellow, the outside a nice turquoise. We went through a LOT of spray paint. Probably $200 worth of paint, which was really the biggest expense out of the whole building.

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Then I got to wiring the ENTIRE THING. And I mean every square inch of this thing is wired. There is an obscene amount of staples and screws in this coop it’s almost ridiculous. But, like I said before, lots of predators and no room for shortcuts. I’ve built bird enclosures in previous jobs, so I know how to look at any and every possible point of entry to make a solid structure safe for the birds living inside of it.

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Being up there was sketchy.

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You have no idea the relief I felt when the wiring was done. What a pain. My hands to my shoulders were sore from using the staple gun a million times, and climbing up and down that ladder was not the most pleasant task. And I went through a shit ton of chicken wire.

The fun part was next, building perches and nest boxes and getting the coop ready for its new inhabitants. I also built a box out of pallets as a spot to store their food, straw, and other things we just don’t have room for the house, since we don’t have a shed yet either.

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Nest boxes!

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Food & straw storage.

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Sneak peak of a chicken in the corner.

And what do you know, about 2 1/2 months later, it was finished! Total I spent around $400 to build it. Half of that was just on paint. The other expenses were hardware cloth, the roof panels, some lumber costs, staples, screws, and straw. Most of the coop was built from free or re-used materials, and all the chicken wire was free from my previous job. Now we have a 10×12 ft Mansion that could easily house 10 birds.

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It’s done!

Then, about 2 weeks ago, we introduced 8 little ladies to their new home. 5 ducks, 3 chickens. You’ll get to meet them in the next post 🙂

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Totally Cool.

Another Summery day!

So I have some totally cool, super rad things to tell you about! This is kind of a random post… but these things are too cool to NOT mention.

White radish!

Ok, so… about a month ago we started noticing this really trippy sound outside. It sounds like we’re under a powerline (which we are obviously not). It’s this really strange constant buzzing noise accompanied by a methodical chewing noise way up in our pine trees. We don’t remember this sound from last year, and it was really making us a little crazy.

Originally we thought pine beetles. Pine beetles are a big problem in this area, and destroy pine trees in quick time in CO, creating a massive fire hazard. But when I researched pine beetles, we didn’t have any of the “symptoms” in our trees. No sawdust piles on the ground, no holes in the bark, no yellowing of the trees. One of R’s co-workers suggested maybe the sap running through the trees is making the sound (now that they’ve thawed out from Winter), since we had done a lot of limbing of our trees recently. There is quite a bit of sap running down some of our trees. That seemed reasonable, until we took Loki for a long walk down one of our nearby roads, and the trippy sound was everywhere. Then someone mentioned cicadas.

Honestly I didn’t think too much of that idea at first. I had never heard of cicadas in this part of the country. That always seemed more of a mid-west kind of thing. It took a few days for me to finally sit down and do some research about cicadas. So I’m reading about cicadas, not really seeing anything significant, until I literally googled “electricity noise in pine trees” and cicadas came up! Then I saw a picture of their exoskeletons that they shed. We had these little skeletons EVERYWHERE in our garden about a month ago and couldn’t figure out what they were!

Cicada skeleton.

Ok, so now I’m reading all about cicadas, and learning that every 13 or 17 years (it’s very precise), they come up out of the ground, shed their skeletons, fly up into the pine trees, eat sap (that chewing noise) for a 4-6 weeks, then the females lay their eggs in the trees, the eggs hatch and the larve fall to the ground, at which point they dig deep into the Earth, attach to a tree root, stay there for 13 or 17 years, then dig up and do it all again. How weird, right?! I also found this random article from August 2016 from somewhere in Ohio I think, saying to prepare for cicadas this coming year because it’s been 17 years!

Then, if all this isn’t weird and cool enough, just the other day at my day job in town, this crazy looking bug flew into the lobby. I caught it in a clear cup and had no clue what it was, then one of my co-workers was all, “oh cool, a cicada.” Totally enthralled, I told him all about all the research I’d done about cicadas and about that crazy noise in our trees at our house. Then, get this, he tells me his family moved here 13 years ago, and he remembers hearing that noise when they first moved here, and hadn’t heard it again until this year. WHAT?! Cicadas are so freaking cool. I can’t even stand it. Ok, so that’s cool thing #1.

It’s hard to see him, but he’s so neat!

Cool thing #2. We’ve gotten pretty familiar with all the weeds that grow here, while pulling them from our garden beds. A couple of weeks ago, this weird thing popped out of the ground in our arugula bed that we didn’t recognize. It was just a pink spear. Not knowing what it was, we decided to let it grow. As it got bigger, it looked more and more like asparagus. Pink asparagus? And why just one random spear?

It kept growing and kept looking like asparagus, and it didn’t make any sense. So I sat down with google again. After quite a bit of online digging, discovered it’s actually a type of fungus called Pinedrops. They’re attached to ponderosa pine roots and come up as these weird asparagus-looking things. Ironically, one of my favorite seasonal beers from Deschutes is called Pinedrops. We’ve decided to let it grow. It’s pretty strange looking.

In other news, It’s hot and dry and buggy here. This is officially my least favorite time of year. The cedar gnats (or no-see-ums as they’re also known) are out in full force and totally destroying us. These freaking gnats are only out from about Memorial Day until monsoons come through, but my are they obnoxious. Instead of puncturing your skin like mosquitos do, they actually have little tiny saws for mouths and cut your skin open to suck your blood, while injecting anti-coagulant into your system. Isn’t that lovely. I appear to be allergic to their anti-coagulant. I’m so red and itchy and swollen and miserable right now. Poor Loki gets it bad around his hairless boy parts. We both get dopey on benadryl from time to time.

So uncomfortable.

They’re out during the hottest part of the day, which is like 10am to 6pm these days (which is why I’m inside blogging right now). Ugh. We can’t wait for monsoons to come. R’s Mom sent us this really awesome bug repellant from doTerra called TerraShield that works well, but even having them buzzing around your face isn’t all that pleasant. So outside chores are saved for early morning and evening these days.

This is what we do now.

And here’s some other pics from the homestead I think you’ll enjoy! While I drink beer and try not to scratch myself…

Completed hoophouse.

Inside the hoophouse: melons and cucumbers on the left, a tomato in the back, asparagus on the right.

Kale.

 

Radishes just before harvest.

The snap peas that survived rot are starting to produce!

 

Kohlrabi growing fast.

Greenhouse tomatoes.

 

Under the leaves; kohlrabi forest.

Mustard greens & arugula.

 

Holy mustard greens!

We even have a resident lizard to represent the homestead.

 

Garden Updates.

We have so much going on at the ranch right now!

It takes us at least an hour in the mornings to take care of all the little plants before we do anything else… like go to work or feed ourselves or make coffee. They are our babies. Loki is our kid too, but he can wait in the mornings. Green sprout babies come first. So, here are the updates:

This is chamomile I planted in a ceramic pot. It’s growing quite a lot, and I’m hoping by the end of Summer I’ll have enough to harvest and dry. Then, I’ll conveniently have home-grown chamomile tea for over the Winter.

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Our asparagus babies are doing well. So far we have 31 out of 39 that have sprouted. Asparagus is very fragile and needy during its first year, so we’re actually pretty pleased with our results so far. They’re still slowly coming up, despite being planted over 2 months ago. A few of them got nailed during a sudden, short hail storm a couple of weeks ago, but none of them have died. Just a couple are growing sideways a bit now. They’ll be fine. It’s pretty fun to watch them grow.

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This is inside our greenhouse. We have 6 tomato plants that we had started inside and just recently transplanted in here. They’re growing fast and we’re pretty stoked.

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The garden. The blue-looking thing in the background is the chicken/duck mansion. The white structure is our new hoop house! R built the hoop house in the last couple of weeks. We’ll be transplanting some more tomatoes, peppers, and melons into there for the Summer. It will protect the plants from wind and hail, and keep temperatures a few degrees warmer. It’s a very exciting edition because it just extends our season that much longer. Now we can grow some greens and cold-hardy stuff in the Fall and into Winter even. Next year we’ll be able to start some plants earlier in the hoop house. It’s pretty sweet.

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Arugula. It’s been growing very well and we’ve now started harvesting leaves for salads and sandwiches!

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Radishes and kale. The radishes will be harvested in the next week, then will be finished for the season until Fall.

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Sugar snap peas. We’re actually currently dealing with some issues with our peas. In this picture it’s hard to tell, but the bed on the left and the center bed of peas are now yellowing and their growth seems to have stunted. We’ve done some research and it sounds like root rot may be to blame. It is fairly common in the pea and bean family. We have a couple of theories as to why this may have happened.

First, all of the peas planted in those two beds were soaked overnight before planting. The peas in the furthest bed were only soaked for an hour or two before planting. Now we’ve read that over-soaking of seeds before planting may be a cause of root rot as the plant grows. Also, a couple of weeks ago we had several days of rain/snow/sleet/wind/cold weather. We covered those two beds but left the furthest bed uncovered, since those had just barely sprouted by then. After reading about root rot just the other day, it sounds like we may have inadvertently caused more damage by covering the plants in the cold, wet weather. The row cover may have held in too much moisture, causing rot in the roots. So far, the furthest bed of peas has been doing well, no yellowing or stunted growth yet. We did fertilize the peas (as well as most of the garden), just the other day with some organic kelp, bat guano, and earthworm casting-based fertilizer. The pea plants are still alive; we’re hoping they bounce back. Lessons learned for sure, and now we’ll just have to see what happens.

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Mustard greens. Growing beautifully. The most colorful and impressive crop in the garden so far.

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This is kohlrabi. It was mostly planted as an experiment because I like how weird it is. They are growing surprisingly fast and amazingly well!

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This is when the tomatoes were still babies in their cups. Peppers there on the right.

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What the inside our house looked like every night. Now the tomatoes are in the greenhouse, but those other little trays still come inside at night. In those cups we have melon and pepper sprouts of different varieties. I have bell peppers, hot wax peppers, cayenne peppers, and a few different melon sprouts.

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Purple kale. Very pretty scarlet color.

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I have to brag a little bit about my off-grid awesome breakfast I made the other morning for us. Pancakes and eggs! (Soon we’ll have FRESH EGGS!)

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And, last but certainly not least, the obligatory Loki picture.

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First Step.

One of our big projects this year is moving our house to a different spot on our property. Right now the house is very close to the road, and we would like some more privacy from passing traffic. It’s a big project, and a little overwhelming to think about. But, we have accomplished the first step!

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Staking the corners.

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Root cellar corners.

Our neighbor was getting a septic system put in at his cabin, so we made a deal with the dude digging and building his system, to come over to our place when he was finished (while all the big machinery was up there anyway) to level a spot for our house and dig the hole for our future root cellar. An hour and a half and a couple hundred dollars later: we have a level pad and a big hole!

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It’s pretty cool to watch a big machine move all that earth so quickly. The only unfortunate part is that bedrock lies 3.5 feet under the surface, so the root cellar hole did not end up as deep as we wanted. Instead, we’ll just have to build up the sides, so it will be mostly underground anyway. The root cellar is going to be a huge undertaking, but now that the hole is dug, we can work on it as we have time. We’re not expecting to have the root cellar finished this year.

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Big machine work.

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So now that that first step is completed, next we need to build a foundation for the house. We’ll be working on setting some concrete rounds, filling the rest in with gravel, leveling everything, and then building a wooden platform for the house to be moved onto. That should be solid enough for our little cabin, and we can hire the guy who originally delivered the cabin to come up, attach his cool wheel and forklift thing to it, and move it down the hill.

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Everything will be a lot more centralized once the house is moved. We’ll be right next to the garden and the chicken coop, and the greenhouse will be a much shorter walk from our front door. Plus we’ll be nearly totally hidden from traffic on our road. It’s going to be awesome.

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Future root cellar.

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Level pad.

It’s so nice to get a jump-start on all these big projects this year. Chickens and ducks will be added to our pack in a few short weeks! And just wait for more garden pictures… coming soon.

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Loki escaping the hole.

(And guess what… it’s windy and cold and miserable outside, which means I get a chance to blog, haha!)

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Future house home.

Gearing Up.

In my last post I talked a bit about how we’re extending our gardening season with row covers and cold frames. I thought I would expand on that a little, and paint a picture about what kind of work is involved when you’re completely off-grid. Since last time I updated, we’ve planted SO MUCH more in the garden. We now, currently, have sprouted: 3 types of radishes, 2 types of kale, arugula, carrots, mustard greens, mache (a salad green), snap peas, and purple kohlrabi. Waiting to see sprouts: onions, more carrots, lavender, and bok choy. Indoors, in cups, we have: asparagus (a few sprouts so far), various types of spicy and sweet peppers, and tomatoes. I also have cilantro and thyme in containers in the greenhouse.

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So here’s our daily routine (assuming the weather is nice, no storms or crazy wind in the forecast):

Up early to uncover all the crops that have row covers or cold frames.

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Move peppers and tomatoes from the house into the greenhouse for the day.

Asparagus gets covered in row cover and set out on the porch.

Everybody gets watered.

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If there is some weather in the forecast for the day, rain or strong wind, we’ll keep the crops mostly covered except for the strongest sprouts. Indoor sprouts will just stay inside the house that day. But, if the weather is just bright and sunny, we’ll water again in the late afternoon, cover everyone back up, move sprout babies back indoors, and get ready for the next day.

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Radishes in the middle; Kale on the edges.

Now, what about watering? We have no running water. Our system consists of two cisterns: a 130 gallon that sits in the back of the truck, and a 325 gallon that sits atop a platform by the garden. Lucky for us, we live in an area where lots of people have to haul their water, so the city has two fill-up stations where you can connect a hose, put money in an account, and fill your cisterns yourself. It costs all of a dollar for 128 gallons. I put $10 in our water account last Summer, and we just had to put more money in it this week. Granted, we don’t use the cisterns over the Winter, but still. We just use them for the garden.

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Water haul.

Anyway, so we fill our little cistern, haul it home, park up the hill and connect a hose to it. The little cistern gravity-feeds into the big cistern over the course of a couple of hours. A couple of hauls a week is what we’ve been doing so far this season. Then, to water the garden, we attach a hose to the big cistern, and there’s enough pressure to gravity-water the entire garden. No power, no running water. And yet, we have a huge growing garden! We’re also putting a lot of effort into our rainwater collection systems, which will also save on water costs.

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In other news, we finished putting the deer fence up around the garden, complete with a big gate that R built himself. Now that the main part of the fence is up, we can put work into reinforcing it here and there. R also laid chicken wire along the outside of the fence and tied fishing line at about chest height all the way around, about 3 or 4 feet from the garden fence. If deer walk into something they can’t see, it spooks them enough to not try to jump it. We also have a theory that chicken wire is not pleasant for them to walk on, which will keep them from coming near the fence at all. So far, no deer break-ins to the garden.

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Check out our awesome gate.

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He’s a big help.

We have been very busy and by the end of most days we are pretty beat. If the weather is nice we’ll have a bonfire and a glass of wine and enjoy our little piece of paradise. Today is rainy and windy and cold outside, so all the sprouts are covered and the indoor babies are staying indoors today. Funny how the only time I find to blog is when the weather is nasty! If it was nice out I’d be outside working right now! It is nice to take a break every once in awhile.

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Celebrating the end of another successful day at the ranch.

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Ah, morning coffee and sunrise.

26 Beds.

We have one very big goal for this year: have a table at the Farmer’s Market in our little mountain town. The Farmer’s Market is every Saturday starting in June, through September. In order to achieve this goal, our garden needed to expand. Big time.

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Last year we had 12 raised garden beds built, and had stuff growing in most of them, though we didn’t have a huge yield due to several factors: not an adequate deer fence or gate to the garden, started planting too late, and we didn’t devote all the time necessary to tend to the garden, due to our million other projects while we were getting settled out here. Well, this year we are a lot more settled, and while those million projects are still around, we have a better handle on things. This year, the garden expansion and tending project has taken priority.

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R has been working tirelessly building garden beds. We now have 26 in place, with space to add more. The garden area will be around 50×50′, in addition to our greenhouse. A significant amount of space has been “set aside,” so to speak, in the garden for asparagus. Asparagus doesn’t necessarily need or do well in raised garden beds, instead you dig trenches to plant them in, as they are hardy perennials that need to get established for several years before they start to produce. We love asparagus and while it is a long-term project, we think it would be so cool to have a yearly asparagus bed.

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We have chosen the raised garden bed plan because our natural soil up here is not ideal for growing. It’s clay and rock. Our dozen garden beds from last year all have dirt in them still, which we just added a bit to this year, but we now have 14 other beds to fill. So we found a place, a plant nursery, about an hour from us that sells dirt and compost by the truckload, and we have so far made 3 trips to and from said nursery with full loads of top soil. We also picked up 10 or so bags of compost while we were at it.

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Let me tell you something. Shoveling an entire truckload of dirt by hand into buckets is a workout. That was an exhausting few truckloads. But totally worth it. We saved a ton of money by buying dirt in bulk as opposed to by-the-bag.

In our climate, average last frost date isn’t until June. But, if we want to eat out of our garden and sell anything at the Farmer’s Market, we need to start seeds sooner. R built a couple of cold frames (basically 1×1″ lumber frame with double-layered plastic attached to it), and we also have 100 feet of row cover material, which can keep your soil a few degrees warmer than outside temperature, plus save your plants in a downpour, hail storm, and from insects. And when the lows are between 27 and 32, those few degrees can really save your little seedlings.

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We planted a row of dinosaur kale and a row of radishes; both extremely cold-hardy plants. At night we have the row cover doubled up, with the cold frame on top. It has been a little cold and rainy the past couple of days, with highs in the 40s, so during the day we’ve been taking the cold frame off and leaving the row cover on. So far, all the babies have sprouted! Radishes grow fast, and in just a few weeks we could have radishes to munch on straight from the garden. Tomorrow we might plant another row of both kale and radishes, so that a week or two after the first batch is harvested, we have another batch waiting, and so on. I’ll also be planting a couple of cold-hardy flowers tomorrow morning under a cold frame.

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We have also started a handful of seeds indoors. We planted tomatoes and peppers (wax pepper and ornamental pepper), in cups last week. No sprouts yet. R also planted a “surprise plant” just for me. I have no idea what it is and he won’t tell me. They have all sprouted! I love surprises and he knows it 🙂

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Future asparagus seedlings.

 

Today we traveled 2 hours from home to the nearest Lowe’s and dropped nearly $700 on supplies. We came home with a 7.5′ high, 330′ long, premium-strength deer fence, 15 8′ metal t-posts for the deer fencing, 8 bags of concrete mix, some plastic paneling and hardware cloth for my chicken coop, and some lumber. We went out for a couple of beers afterward.

So this is our garden adventure so far this year! We got home a few hours ago, started a fire in the woodstove because it apparently hailed while we were gone, checked on all the sprout babies, and have been chilling in our pajamas ever since. Tomorrow is back to work on the homestead.

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Spring 2017!

Spring started early here in SW Colorado! By the beginning of March the highs were in the 50s and 60s and we had full days of sun. In just a couple of short weeks most of our snow from the Winter had melted away. Of course, right now I’m looking out the window and it’s… you guessed it… snowing… but still. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and near 60, so this will all melt tomorrow probably. But the last few weeks have been amazing to be working outside.

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Bonfire!

We’ve had quite a few big bonfires to get rid of some of our big piles of brush leftover from last fall, and now is the time to have fires like this; a couple of months from now it will be too dry and dangerous to do such a thing. I also needed our biggest brush pile cleared out so I could start building my chicken coop! I have gotten as far as the floor, and just getting to that point has been a lot of work. Leveling ground, pulling out rocks, placing pallets, laying chicken wire and hardware cloth, screwing the whole thing together, flipping it over… it’s been a process so far. When it’s finished, it’ll be 10×12 feet, plenty of space for a few hens and ducks. And in the future, a rooster and some rabbits too. More details on the coop in a future post, when it’s complete!

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Leveling ground for chickens.

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Chicken house footprint.

The horny toads are back out and about! We love having our little meadow dragons around again. I’ve put my hummingbird feeder out in preparation for them to come back too. They apparently knew it was going to snow at least one more time and have not returned quite yet… smart little birds.

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Dragon!

 

R also cut down another big unhealthy tree that was being crowded by healthier trees and needed to go. We’re considering turning one of the big logs into a bench to hang out by the fire pit. It’s a nice little spot to hang out. We’ve already had some friends over: bonfire, brats, and beer!

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Future bench hang-out?

 

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Loki laying in the fire pit. Obviously, pre-fire.

 

Just the other day was the official first day of Spring, so happy Spring! We’ve gone through hardly any firewood the past few weeks, we even skipped one night having a fire completely in the woodstove, but tonight it’s snowing and so cozy inside next to the fire. Since the time change too we’ve been working outside later into the evening, and by the time we come in we’re pretty worn out and it is time for bed. It has taken a little adjusting from Winter into Spring as far as our energy levels are concerned. We have a lot to do and we’re trying to take advantage of every moment of sunlight. Coffee has been my friend in the mornings. And I have found that my physical recovery days are days when I go into town to work at my day job. I work so much harder at home!

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We’re not the only ones worn out at the end of the day.

 

But man is this life rewarding.

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Just a couple of homesteading hippies!

Bread.

I made bread! Off the grid! In the woodstove!

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So, first obvious question: how did you have the idea to bake *in* the woodstove? And, doesn’t that seem like a lot of work? Well, yes. It was quite a lot of work. But extremely rewarding. I’ve been interested in baking off-grid for awhile now (I LOVE baking brownies), and had done some research about how to bake inside of your woodstove. We also have this awesome book called The Tassajara Bread Book, written by Buddhist monks from a Buddhist retreat temple in California. Right up our alley. The bread recipes in the book are typical recipes, with exact oven temperatures and baking times, so I basically put my woodstove baking research and some Zen bread recipes together as one big (and surprisingly successful) experiment!

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Set-up.

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For my first bread attempt, I picked the simplest bread recipe I could find in the book, it’s just wheat flour, yeast, and salt. This particular recipe requires the dough to rise overnight, then you add more water and flour in the morning, knead, and it rises for another 4 hours or so before baking for 45 minutes. Here’s where the logistical nightmare sets in: we also heat our house with our woodstove. So I have to think about keeping the house warm and picking the opportune time to have a fire die down to hot coals to bake something for 45 min without overheating or chilling the house. To be honest, I didn’t do a great job.

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Kneading in-action.

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Covered. Rising.

The afternoon before, I prepared the dough, covered it, and let it set overnight. The next morning, we didn’t get up as early as we had hoped, so we didn’t start a fire as early as expected. I also didn’t add what needed to be added and knead the dough until later in the morning, which THEN it needs to rise for another 4 hours. So I basically had to keep the fire in the woodstove going all day, which was not ideal (it was chilly outside so it wasn’t a huge deal, but we could’ve easily gone without the fire), and also I didn’t want the fire to go out just to re-start it again because the whole stove needs to be hot in order to really bake something. So I just kept feeding the fire all day.

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After being “punched down.”

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Finally, around 2:30pm, I was able to put the bread in the oven. I oiled our dutch oven, put the dough in there, and once the coals were like a medium-heat (see how scientific this is?), placed the dutch oven in there. 45 minutes later, I took the dutch oven out to check on it. The bread didn’t rise anymore, but it looked golden brown on the outside and sounded hollow when I tapped it (again, Zen-science 🙂 ).

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Seriously, how cool is that?

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Bread #1.

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Bread #2.

We set it on a wire rack to cool, and when we sliced into it: HEAVEN. Such good bread. Really dense, really wheaty, really filling, delicious, bread. We ate most of it and I took some to my co-workers. Everyone loved it. The following weekend I tried a different bread recipe: wheat flour, yeast, oil, and honey this time. Still turned out dense but delicious.

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I’m so stoked that I can bake bread in our woodstove. How freaking cool?! We feel like real off-the-gridders now. My dad called me his “pioneer girl.” I’m loving this baking experiment and soon brownies might be on the list!

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Celebrating!

Idle Time.

We’ve taken to spending a lot more time reading during this Winter season. I read this cool book titled Twelve By Twelve, about a guy who lives in a 12×12 off-grid cabin in North Carolina for a Summer. Our cabin is only slightly bigger than that, and we live in ours year-round, not just during the comfortable seasons. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty fascinating book by William Powers that I highly recommend. He talks a lot about Idle Time; time with which you do nothing. It’s a very Zen way of spending time. Just like meditation. He talks about people in other cultures around the world who plan their days around having hours of Idle Time, just to sit with Nature and be. It struck a chord with me.

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R caught me outside getting some vitamin D and reading.

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We live in the woods. And while we have a project list that’s never-ending and there’s always things for us to be doing and working on, I absolutely enjoy my Idle Time here at the ranch. Last Summer on days off from work, my favorite thing in the morning was sitting outside in the sunshine with a cup of coffee or tea and just watching the birds and squirrels wake up for the day. Watching the energies of the wildlife as the morning matures is both fascinating and energizing in itself. I have grown to really love my Idle Time.

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I think animals are naturally Zen Idle Time Masters.

My Dad is a Taoist, and I grew up with that Zen way of thinking. You spend quiet moments simply observing Nature to prepare for your day. So during our nicer days towards the end of this current Winter season, I’ve been spending more time simply sitting outside, with Loki at my feet, reading or just being. As the days have been warming up and the snow has started to melt, we have a lot to do outside, and while we do spend a lot of time working on the ranch, we make time for Idleness too. We even had our first couple of outdoor bonfires last week.

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First bonfire of the year!

I read an article recently about Forest Bathing, which is essentially being out in the woods, soaking up all the energy from Nature, and how beneficial it is for your health. People who regularly participate in Forest Bathing have less anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Trees are so good for your health; the ions they emit will heal what ails you. Since we live in the woods we reap the benefits of being in the forest every day. A couple of weeks ago we took a short vacation to Northern Arizona (Flagstaff/Sedona/Williams area), and stayed in a motel near downtown Flagstaff. Let me tell you, I could absolutely sense the difference between staying in a city and living in the woods. We stayed up later than we normally do, didn’t sleep as well, and felt a lot more drained.

I literally couldn’t sleep one night because the mini fridge in our room was making too much noise. That humming was too much for me. We unplugged it. While the getaway was nice, we were happy to get home to the woods!

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Cozy.

The weather was looking up as far as Winter maybe winding down, then it started snowing yesterday, and it hasn’t stopped. We have almost a foot of fresh snow on the ground! I guess February wanted to go out with a bang. So our weekend projects have been put on hold for the day at least. It’s supposed to be back up warm and sunny tomorrow for the rest of the week. For today, we’ll just be cleaning up, cooking, reading, and I’m going to attempt to bake bread in the woodstove. More on that soon.

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Loki is a pro at Idle Time. We call this Loki Pose.

What a miserable place to be snowed in.

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This morning!